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Continuous Aspect

OE verbs are represented by imperfective aspect and perfective aspect (resultative, the verbs that characterize the verbs of completed action), these are the verbs with prefixes ǯe- (ǯi-). Imperfective verbs are used without these prefixes.

Some verbs can be used without the prefix ge-, but still they can render perfective and imperfective meaning:

leornian – “to learn” “have learnt”

In late OE texts the prefix ge- can also render imperfective meaning.

The aspectual meaning in OE did not have special forms. The continuous aspect could be seen out of context:

In many cases this meaning could be rendered by means of the syntactic form bēōn (wesan) + PI

Sēō eorðe is berende missenlīcra fuǯela – this earth is bringing up different fowls.

The continuous meaning with this form expresses continuity indefinite in time.

It was noted that such continous forms were more frequently used in OE prose than in poetry. Some scholars believe that it may be explained by the fact that OE prose was heavily influenced by Latin, since a lot of works were translated from Latin.

After the Norman conquest the English language was influenced by French and the forms with beon (wesen) with PI were influenced by French which also had Continuous froms.

In Early ME the usage of forms ben (wesen)+PI was reduced in Southern and Eastern dialects. In ME continuous forms started rendering the meaning of the action related to a certain moment. ME is characterized by the opposition of continuous and non-continous forms, which is characteristic of ModE. Therefore, there was a need of qualitative new form of rendering a continuous action.

Thus, in the XIV cen. one may notice the quantitative rise of such forms in texts. There existed two forms of rendering a continuous action:

ben (wesen)+ PI

ben (wesen) + on/in+gerund

he was on huntinge – he was on hunting

This construction expressed a continuous action limited in time.

In the XV cen. the preposition was reduced to the element a-, added to gerund. So, the were very similar forms that represented continous aspect which led to their blending in the XVI cen. The meaning rendered by gerund was preserved (the action limited in time). The element a- was used till the XVII cen, however already in the XVIII cen. these forms have their present day look. (the verb to be in such constructions went trough the process of complete grammaticalization).

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